Defiance in the Face of Cancer

I felt like a fraud! I was sitting in the cancer treatment center having my 12 weekly infusions of Zometa, that helps stop my bones disintegrating after seven years of hormone therapy, and I actually felt like a fraud.

There were eight of us in this particular treatment bay, all having horrible things pumped into us, for the other seven to try and keep their cancers at bay at least for now.

Conversing with others receiving infusions

Conversation struck up. It turned out that several of the others had been on the treatment bed for hours already and had several hours to go, as they are treated with different forms of chemotherapy.

I explained that my infusion is only going to take an hour and the infusion of the drug itself is only 15 minutes. Everyone looked a bit puzzled. I thought to myself, there’s going to be one of those “at least you’ve got the good cancers to get” moments, but other cancer patients usually know better than to say that.

Suddenly I felt like a fraud

I explained that I’ve got incurable prostate cancer and that my infusion is, at least in part, to try and prevent my spine collapsing. I shared that my cancer is being kept at bay by hormonal therapies, at least for now, and that so far I’ve been lucky enough to have avoided chemotherapy.

So that I didn’t feel like a fraud around the others, I explained to them that over 6 years ago I was told I only had two years to live. I said I was lucky to avoid chemotherapy. I had private medical insurance that gave me access to another drug that I’ve responded really well to, but had effectively chemically castrated me with awful side effects. Among them: erectile dysfunction, loss of libido, hot sweats, loss of muscle mass, weight gain, loss of body hair, man boobs, and of course my bones are starting to disintegrate, which is why I’m here.

I now felt like less of a fraud because the others were all shocked. They really had no idea that prostate cancer could have that impact.

What I took away from the experience

The conversation changed to us talking about how we were all doing, and I was taken aback by the air of defiance in the bay. Everyone was incredibly upbeat and getting on with living their lives as best they could in the circumstances. Those were obviously not great as many, like me, were also stage 4 patients.

I think there’s a metaphor for life in my experience that day. Far too often we spend our lives chasing success in our careers, motivated by rewards, and we forget to live life to the fullest. I was as guilty of that as anyone was, but I still found time to fill life with joy. However, I’m sure I got the balance wrong!

That sense of defiance even extended to talking about our futures. I find that talking about a cancer prognosis is really challenging and can lead to all sorts of anxiety. I’d been told in May 2017 that I may only live for two years, and I made the mistake of losing the joy of living through the fear of dying.

A sense of defiance

However, in that treatment center bay that day, everyone was astonishingly positive about the future. Very much a "what will be will be" attitude and, in the meantime, we’ll fill our lives with joy and happiness. I really wish I hadn’t got it so wrong at the start, and I’m glad that I finally got my head around it.

Thinking about our longevity is a really difficult place to go, but I now take great heart in how others that I have gotten to know are doing with this insidious illness. There’s my friend who’s now 10 years post-diagnosis and a real master at living a full life. Then there’s a friend who is now at 14 years and loving his family life and grandchildren, even though his treatment options are now limited to trials. Which, in my view, makes him a magnificent defiant pioneer for the generations that follow.

In closing, what stood out for me that day was the overpowering sense of defiance in the treatment center, and I see it in others around me like my friends. We know that many face a poor outcome, but we’re staring cancer in the face and saying, "Not today cancer, not today!"

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